• Iron Monkey



    Released by: Eureka
    Released on: June 18th, 2018.
    Director: Yuen Woo-ping
    Cast: Donnie Yen, Jean Wang, Sze-Man Tsang, Rongguang Yu, James Wong
    Year: 1993
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    The Movie:

    Almost a Chinese take on the Zorro mythos, Yuen Woo-ping's 1993 effort Iron Monkey, produced by Tsui Hark, was one of a few collaborations with Donnie Yen and a film that help Yen climb to the top of the martial arts ladder both at home and abroad. And for good reason, as the film is ridiculously entertaining and a whole lot of fun from start to finish.

    Set in the 19th century in a town where government corruption runs rampant we meet a young Wong Fei-Hong (Sze-Man Tsang) who travels with his father, Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen). Having recently arrived in town they soon find themselves in hot water. You see, there's one mysterious masked man known only as the Iron Monkey (Rongguang Yu) who dares to stand up to the government and obviously the powers that be want him stopped as he's a constant thorn in their side. Taking advantage of the impoverished locals, the government offers up a reward for help in his capture but it's to no avail - the locals love Iron Monkey because he fights for them. The government suspects that the town's new arrival may actually be Iron Monkey, but this is soon proven to not be the case. When word gets out that Wong Kei-Ying is a master fighter, the government officials decide they can force him into fighting for them against Iron Monkey by kidnapping his son.

    Initially, Wong Kei-Ying doesn't really have much of a choice but to oblige. The more Wong Kei-Ying learns about his opponent and his assistant, Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), however, the more he grows to appreciate what he's doing and what he stands for and eventually the pair decide to work together to free Wong Fei-Hong from his captors and save the proverbial day as it all leads up to the inevitable showdown with the sinister men in charge led by Governor Cheng Pak-Fong (James Wong)...

    At approximately eighty-five minutes in length, Iron Monkey doesn't waste any time. It's a pretty lean film and while it definitely borrows from pictures like the various Zorro and Robin Hood films made over the years, it does so with a unique cultural slant that makes the somewhat predictable material storyline feel a little fresher than it might have otherwise. Focused around a series of fantastic fight scenes, all done without the aid of computer effects, the film moves at a great pace and contains enough action, comedy and intrigue to really fire on all cylinders. It may not have the epic scope of the Once Upon A Time In China series and it might not be as uproariously funny as Jackie Chan's Drunken Master films but it does manage to find a nice balance and fit perfectly in between the two better known takes on the Wong Fei-Hong folk stories that have been popular throughout the history of Chinese cinema (and obviously this is a different take on Wong Fei-Hong, presenting his early years rather than his adult years).

    Rongguang Yu and Donnie Yen are both excellent in their roles while the underrated Jean Wang gets at least one scene stealing chance to duke it out with the boys and Yuen Woo-ping's choreography and directing efforts ensure that the camera captures all of their considerable skills with style. The fights here have an impact that a lot of more recent martial arts fare lacks - the hits and the punches feel like they hurt, and there's just a more intense sense of realism at play that definitely works in the picture's favor. You could argue against the film and easily claim that the story is really only there to string the set pieces together, but there is some decent character development here, particularly on the part of Yen's character, that lets the talent actually act as well as beat the snot out of one another.

    While Iron Monkey might do reinvent the wheel or try anything all that new within the confines of the martial arts genre, it doesn't matter - the film is exciting, tense, and very well made and the conclusion is a highpoint in the careers of both Donnie Yen and Yuen Woo-ping. It's not particularly realistic or original but what's more important is that it's entirely enjoyable and a whole lot of fun.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Taken from a “brand new 2K restoration” and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, Iron Monkey, which is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, looks really, really good on Blu-ray from Eureka. Detail is excellent and there’s nice depth to the image. Close up shots look great but even medium and long-distance shots really benefit from the cleanup work that’s been done here. Color reproduction is spot-on and black levels are nice and deep. Shadow detail is strong and clarity remains solid even during nighttime scenes. Skin tones look nice and natural and there are no noticeable compression artifacts to complain about. The transfer is very film-like, the natural and expected amount of grain shows up throughout, but there’s very little in the way of actual print damage at all. Eagle-eyed viewers might spot the odd white speck here and there but otherwise, this is very clean looking.

    There are quite a few audio options here: Cantonese: LPCM Mono and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Mandarin: LPCM 2.0 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM Mono. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Purists will opt for the Cantonese mono track and likely be quite happy with the results. There are a few spots here and there where some sound effects spike in the mix a little bit and some spots where some dubbing is a bit more than obvious but overall this is a clean and concise track with good range and balance. The 5.1 mix basically spreads out the score and the effects into the rear channels for the actions scenes, and it too sounds quite good. Those who want the Mandarin and English subs will find those here as well, and spot checking them found that they sounded just fine – but the Cantonese mono track seems to the suit the movie better than the other options do.

    Eureka has supplied quite a few extra features, starting with a twenty-minute interview with Donnie Yen in which he talks about the legacy of the character that he plays in the film as well as what it was like working with Tsui Hark and Yuen Woo-ping in an attempt to do it as little differently than it had been done in the past. Yen also speaks about what it was like on set, shooting the picture and his thoughts on the movie. From there, producer Tsui Hark gets in front of the camera for twenty-five minutes, speaking about the different Wong Fei-hung projects he’s worked on, including the Once Upon A Time In China series and, obviously, Iron Monkey. He also gives his thoughts on the character and talks up his involvement in getting Iron Monkey made and what it was like working with the cast and crew.
    Actor Rongguang Yu gets twenty-seven minutes in the spotlight to share his thoughts on starring alongside Yen and the other cast members in what has gone on to become a pretty iconic picture and which was a very big role for him at the time. Additionally, he talks about his early days in the Peking Opera, how he got into acting, different experiences that he has had throughout his career and more. Up next is a twenty-five-minute segment with stuntwoman and actress Li Fai that details how she got her start working as an actress and some of the martial arts roles that wound up helping her climb the ladder in the industry before then going on to star in Iron Monkey, which she recounts in quite a bit of detail. The last interview is with actress Angie Tsang and it allows her to talk for twenty-minutes about her martial arts training and what that allowed her to bring to different roles and then her work on the feature attraction. All of these featurettes are in Chinese with English subtitles and they’re quite detailed and interesting.

    Eureka has also included some archival featurettes starting with the sixteen-minute Iron Fist, which is a behind the scenes piece that documents the film’s spectacular fight choreography and action set pieces. Also on hand is the eight-minute Shadow Boxing piece that provides a brief but welcome look at the picture’s fight choreography by way of some footage of Alex Yip in action. If that wasn’t enough, we also get nine-minutes of footage showing both Li Fai and Angie Tsang competing at the 2003 Wu-shu Championships.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, an isolated music and effects track, menus and chapter selection. Finished product is said to include a slipcover and insert booklet but that material was not provided for review.

    The Final Word:

    Iron Monkey is just as much fun now as it's ever been. Featuring some magnificent fight choreography and a great performance from Donnie Yen, it's hard not to recommend this disc. Eureka has done a great job with the presentation and the disc is stacked with extras, making this quite a nice upgrade for fans of this action classic.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!